When I was young, I used to laugh at paranoid, grumpy old men who told me not to believe what we read in the newspapers or saw on the television news. Maybe at 50 years I am not exactly an old man, but I can no longer be described as young, and I am certainly paranoid and grumpy.
Some of my family, friends and colleagues attended a Charlie Hebdo solidarity rally in Sheffield on Sunday 10th January. I did not. Not because I in anyway condone or excuse the action of the men who murdered 12 cartoonists and journalists at the magazine’s headquarters, or the five other people killed subsequently. But even before the staggering hypocrisy of David Cameron, amongst others, posturing at the memorial march in Paris, I felt uncomfortable about the willingness of the British mainstream media to ignore the approximately one million people who have been killed in the “war on terror” in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere that is really a colonial proxy war over oil and gas reserves, perpetrated by the United States and aided by the United Kingdom.
As an observer, I am not in the same league as people like John Pilger, and if you want to know more about the dirty wars being perpetrated in our names, you should read his work and watch his films and I will not duplicate that here.
He documents how jihadism / radicalization was unknown in most of the middle eastern countries until recently and how it is a product of invasion, occupation and oppression. He compares it to the rise of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot in Cambodia, who were radicalized by the indiscriminate bombing by the US, and theirs was a reign of genuine terror that left two million Cambodians dead in the killing fields and torture rooms.
Will Self, in his article for the Guardian, branded the murderers as evil and, although I would not necessarily use that word myself, quite rightly says that the act was not “an attack on freedom of speech”, and also that freedom of speech is not an inalienable human right. Unfettered freedom of speech would also allow the expression of any extreme views, including incitement to racial hatred and violence.
Memories are short, but I remember thinking about some members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), in the days before the successful negotiated peace (fancy that!), that, regardless of their grievances and the British government’s shameful past, some of the members of the IRA seemed to enjoy making bombs and blowing “holes in bandsmen by remote control”.
Wicked, misguided people with always find a reason to justify their actions, but these motivations should not be used to generalize attitudes towards other people that the perpetrators might identify with. If Charlie Hebdo had not published cartoons portraying the prophet Mohammed, the same men would have found other reasons for persecuting other victims, because that is what they wanted to do.
Charlie Hebdo has a reputation for highly provocative material and this I why I do not claim je suis Charlie. As cartoonist Martin Rowson said in the Channel 4 News discussion with Will Self, a degree of self-censorship is also necessary. I do not believe that the principle of freedom of speech allows anyone to say absolutely anything. Responsibility needs to be exercised, although that does not excuse murder.
I can’t speak for other countries, but the British mainstream media is a swamp of lies and misinformation. I am sure that there are radicalized Muslims but I do not believe there are anywhere near as many as our media would have us believe, and where there are genuine jihadists, they have been inspired by generations of foreign countries destroying their homelands, killing their people and stealing their resources.
I believe that the mainstream media’s obsession with radicalized Muslims is a deliberate policy, seeded by the spin-doctors and lobbyists of the right-wing political parties, and is directly comparable with the scapegoating of Jews by Hitler and the National Socialists in the 1930s. It is a strategy to move the electorate to the right and to undermine civil liberties.
Just as I criticized the poppies in the moat of the Tower of London, representing only the British and Commonwealth service personnel’s dead and not even the hapless civilians, I believe that this act of murder is part of an ongoing tragedy whose scale is almost too great to comprehend.
In the same week, 2,000 people were murdered in Baga in Nigeria by Boko Haram but we didn’t see any world leaders marching there. No doubt because the victims are only black people and they do not work in the media. What’s more, they don’t live in a comfortable western city where a photo opportunity would not be too inconvenient.
The hypocrisy of our political leaders is breathtaking. Even a committee of George Orwell, Charles Dickens and Samuel Beckett would be hard pushed to imagine a more cynical image than Benjamin Netanyahu, David Cameron and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu arm-in-arm, marching in solidarity for freedom of speech.
Stop the War Coalition nailed it with this post:
In the meantime, don’t believe what you read in the newspapers or see on the television news.